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Penn State alum: We deserved NCAA penalty

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
Roxanne Jones says faced with charges of Sandusky's sexual abuse, Penn State's trustees failed to do their jobs.
Roxanne Jones says faced with charges of Sandusky's sexual abuse, Penn State's trustees failed to do their jobs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Some Penn Staters outraged at post-Sandusky NCAA penalties
  • She says many at university, not just football program, were responsible
  • She says Penn State got off easy after heinous behavior administration allowed
  • Jones: Housecleaning not done: Trustees who sat silent should be made to step down

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones, a graduate of Penn State, is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House) and is CEO of Push Media Strategies and is working on her second book.

(CNN) -- When my phone rang just a few seconds after the NCAA sanctions were handed down Monday, I knew it was someone from Penn State calling, likely outraged that our beloved university was being punished so harshly. I've received these calls all week.

"I don't think it's fair mainly because there were no violations on the field of play. There were no violations by athletes," said one caller, decrying the raft of penalties that will, among other things, keep the university's football program out of the post-season for four years. "Only by coaches and administration, all of whom are gone and facing criminal charges. ... I just feel the NCAA is pimping off the Penn State situation," said my friend on the phone, a former football player and current college administrator. "What do you think?" he asked. He was clearly upset.

And, he is clearly wrong.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

I'm sorry. I just can't join the throngs of furious Nittany Lions. My outrage is too focused on a university that failed us and, more importantly, all of the boys who were raped and abused by former coach Jerry Sandusky. He was convicted last month for sexually assaulting 10 boys over more than 10 years, while everyone, according to the Freeh report on the scandal -- coaches, administrators and Penn State's Board of Trustees, sat back and let it happen. Too afraid to ask any questions, too afraid to lose their careers, too selfish to care about anything but football and the big money it represented.

What do I think, my friend? I think the NCAA sanctions are not only fair but also could have been harsher.

Arguing that the NCAA overstepped its bounds and has no right to butt into this criminal case is ridiculous. That is the same type of legal-loophole thinking that Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and other top officials who knew about Sandusky's behavior used when they "followed the letter of the law" and reported to their superiors that Sandusky may have done "something" to a boy in the shower that awful night in 1998. They reported this suspected rape to their bosses and then went home.

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I think we got off easy.

But to hear the indignant reaction of those in the Penn State family and in the media, you would think that the NCAA was shutting down the entire university. I just don't get it. We are talking about a university -- not one man, many men and women, an entire culture -- that allowed a former coach to repeatedly rape and abuse boys for decades on university property and school trips.

Penn State alum: 'We are more than this tragedy'

We are talking about a university (not just a football program) that covered up these crimes, allowing the football program to become a safe haven for a child rapist. It is a university and the entire culture around Happy Valley that happily saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil as long as the profits were rolling in and the stadium seats were filled. And now we all have to pay the penalty for allowing that culture to fester.

I'm willing to believe the board of trustees also realizes we got off easy, considering how quickly it agreed not to appeal any of the NCAA sanctions. Small wonder. Said the Freeh report: "The board also failed in its duties to oversee the president and senior university officials in 1998 and 2001 by not inquiring about important university matters and by not creating an environment where senior university officials felt accountable."

That is why it is time to clean house on the board.

Any board member who sat back, asked no questions or failed to demand on the record that university President Graham Spanier be more accountable to his bosses — that would be the board itself -- needs to step down.

According to the university's alumni website, trustees have "complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the university and all the interests pertaining thereto including students, faculty, staff and alumni."

Is there any doubt that the current lame-duck board miserably failed in its job? It is a positive step that the board commissioned the Freeh's report, but they must still be held to account for leading our university down a path of destruction.

If we are going to clean house in the football program -- and we are not quite done there -- then, next, every trustee who sat silent on that board since 1998 should also be asked to leave. If this were any other board (corporate or nonprofit) there would be angry calls from constituents and sponsors for resignations. Well, we who are Penn State are the constituents and sponsors.

Board members are entrusted with the care of the university. They are the gatekeepers. And believe me, board service is not for the weak or cowardly. I've sat on many boards; the work is hard, especially since members generally depend on the president of the organization to keep them informed. But that is not a board member's only role. The trustee website also states that the board: "...has a continuing obligation to require information or answers on any university matter with which it is concerned."

In other words, your job as a trustee is to always ask the tough questions, do your homework and examine the facts around issues pertaining to the well-being of the university. Sometimes, it means that you have to confront an arrogant bully. Sometimes that bully is your president. To do anything less is a failure to the organization you serve.

Even after the board was updated about the Sandusky investigation in May 2011, several trustees recalled in the Freeh Report, no one asked tough questions. Several present at that meeting recalled that after a three- to five-minute meeting on Sandusky and the grand jury investigation, "the university did not appear to focus on the investigation." It did not seem that important to Penn State.

Weak leaders put their own agenda and profits before all else. These people do not deserve to serve on the board. Our house is still dirty and we need to finish cleaning up so we can all once again proudly proclaim:

We are ... Penn State.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

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